Veli Acu’s letter from prison in Turkey

Veli Acu was detained along with nine others in July during a workshop in Istanbul in Turkey, where he was training human rights defenders from different organisations, including Amnesty Turkey’s Director İdil Eser. They are facing an investigation on suspicion of aiding a terrorist organisation, a ridiculous and baseless accusation. They have done nothing wrong.

Veli has written a letter from prison about his life and experiences which led him to a career defending human rights:

“According to my identity documents, I was born on 1 January 1998 in Siirt/Şirvan. Only the province and district names are correct – all the rest including the day, month and year were written on the initiative of the register officer.

I am one of the eleven children of my illiterate parents, both nomadic Kurdish people who spent the hot summer days on the highlands. When I was four or five, security forces came to our village and wanted us to evacuate it, citing some reasons whose meanings I fully understood only at university. In reality, the main reason was that famous word: “security.” Later I came to know that whenever someone utters this word nothing good would follow.

‘Security’ was coded as a calamity in my mind. The entire village had a week to leave after hearing that famous, life-defining word.

Finding a house in Ankara was as hard as coming there. We found a two-room shanty house, cashing in a few favours, and only revealing half the siblings to the landlord. Nobody leased a house to families with many children back then. Especially if the ethnic minority to which you belonged was constantly mentioned alongside terrorism on the radio.

Although earning little money, I started working by selling simit pastries on the streets, just like my father and my two brothers. I learned my first Turkish words while working on the streets.

I started at a primary school with the little Turkish I spoke in the 1994-95 school year. The first three years were like a nightmare for me. The most memorable thing from these years was the violence I was subjected to by my classroom teacher. I think I never had a day without being beaten.

When I started the fourth grade a lot had changed in my life. Most importantly I had learned Turkish by then; I was participating in class and I was able to understand my teacher. Despite working after school and at weekends, I had a good final grade.

I started high school in 2002 and graduated in 2006. I was admitted to the Political Science and Public Administration programme at Gazi University, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences in Ankara. I do not come from a political family and I had no interest in studying Political Science. The programme in Political Science and Public Administration was a consolation prize for many students who had actually wanted to study Law.

I did not have substantial ties with any political movement during my university years. My most distinguishable “political” side was the reflexes I developed against racist statements I heard at Gazi University.

University students had been publishing the “Free Ideas” magazine. I contributed to the magazine with my article on “Civil Disobedience, Passive Resistance and Non-Violence.” I went to the Association for Liberal Thinking meetings regularly. Later, the chairman of the “Human Rights Agenda Association” was invited to speak at one of the meetings. I joined the association and started as an intern later. It was a milestone for me. The association, which refused violence, defended human rights within the framework of universal law, and was against all forms of discrimination, was the place where I found myself.

In the association, I was directed to read on human rights and encouraged to improve my English. Now I was able to see more clearly what I wanted to do. I wanted to receive education on human rights and become a Human Rights Defender.

In 2012, I was accepted by the Human Rights Masters programme of Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science. I also obtained a scholarship from University of Toronto in Canada for their human rights programme, where I spent six months. I wanted to be a student, registered at a university until the end of my life.

Between 2012 and 2016, I studied for an associate degree in Justice in Anadolu University, via distance learning. I continued studying at the same university and obtained my third diploma, which was a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management. In 2016, I started the English Language and Literature programme at Gaziantep University and I am still enrolled there.

On 12 November 2016, I married the most beautiful woman in the world. November 2017 will be even more meaningful for us, as we will have our baby Deniz. We will buy tickets for three people everywhere we go from then on.

Veli remains in pre-trial detention at the time of writing in October 2017.